There’s nothing like Saturday college football. Week 1 is underway with games taking place during week 0 and Thursday and Friday during week 1. But Saturday has the most extensive and exciting schedule of the five-day week 1 weekend.
So much to watch for so we break it down for you.
Games of the Day
Based on our pre-season projections, there are two games with major playoff implications – Michigan @ Notre Dame and Washington vs Auburn.
Michigan and the Irish renew and old rivalry, they haven’t faced each other since 2014. ESPN Gameday will be in South Bend so the crowd will be extra amped. But this is the year of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh finally has his QB, having landed Shea Patterson, a former top 5 recruit, from Ole Miss. The defense will be as strong as ever and with question marks at running back for the Irish (who replaces Josh Adams) and starting QB Brandon Wimbush looking over his shoulder at Ian Book, the game is there for the taking for the Wolverines. A win at Notre Dame will do a lot for Michigan – gives them an early season confidence booster plus a strong OOC win for their resume. If Notre Dame is as good as folks think, that win could benefit Michigan and be the difference in making the playoffs.
Washington is coached by Chris Peterson, who is all too familiar with these key neutral site opening games, from his time at Boise State. Senior QB Jake Browning has played a big game or two in his career, having led the Huskies to the playoffs in 2016 and the Fiesta Bowl last season. He and RB Myles Gaskin return with playoff aspirations once more. In a weak PAC-12, beating an SEC powerhouse like Auburn could give Washington the biggest OOC victory of the season, similar to Michigan, helping boost their resume, should they have the success anticipated during conference play. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham is one of our favorites in the Heisman race, but the loss of Kerryon Johnson will prove to be a big deal as will their questions on defense. An Auburn loss would mean their third straight defeat in as many consecutive games inside the Georgia Dome (SEC title game, Peach Bowl)
Head Coaching Debuts
Zach Day, Ohio State – the most intriguing debut of the day isn’t a full time head coach, it’s Ohio State interim and OC Zach Day. This is Day’s first head coaching opportunity as he replaces a suspended Urban Meyer for three games. The Buckeyes get Oregon State at home, a game they should win by 5+ touchdowns under normal circumstances. Are these normal circumstances still? Will the Buckeyes come out sloppy and un-focused? Or will they be crisp and on point.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee – it’s possible that no team in college football ever endures a coaching search as bizarre and crazy as the one Tennessee did this off-season. But ultimately, it ended well for the Vols and former Alabama DC is the right man for the job. It just might take him a year or so to get settled. Week 1 offers a tough task against a veteran West Virginia team. The Vols should compete harder and be in the mix for 6 wins and a return to a bowl game.
Chip Kelly, UCLA – Chip Kelly returns to college football after a fairly disappointing and unsuccessful run in the NFL Kelly went 46-7 in 4 years at Oregon before going to the NFL and he returns to the PAC-12. Year 1 may be tough as Kelly adjusts to not having his typical athletes, especially on offense. Kelly likes a specific type of lineman and speedy receivers and running backs. When he took over at Oregon, his system was already in place. There may be an adjustment period in LA.
Scott Frost, Nebraska – the 1997 National championship QB returns home in a feel good story. Following 7 years of going 9-4 under Bo Pelini (now at Youngstown State) and 3 years of mediocrity or worse under Mike Riley, the Corn Huskers should return to national prominence under one of their favorite sons. Frost just led UCF to a national championship and 14-0 season in 2017.
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona – Sumlin was fired by Texas A&M for failing to achieve fairly unreasonable expectations in the impossible SEC west. Known best for consistently going 8-4, Sumlin will look to bounce back at Arizona, a job with significantly less pressure. Sumlin has been hailed as an offensive wizard, and the architect behind Johnny Manziel’s Heisman campaign. Imagine the wonders he can work with sophomore Khalil Tate, our pick for Heisman in 2018.
QBs to Watch
Khalil Tate, Arizona – why not start with Tate. He sat on the bench for the first month of the season but when he finally got into a game against Colorado, all he did was run for 327 yards. He threw 17 TDs and ran for 12 more, rushing for 1,411 yards total, a yards per carry average of 9.2. For the a quarterback. wow. Because of those numbers, a weak PAC-12 and new coach Sumlin, Tate is our pick here to win the 2018 Heisman and lead Arizona to the schools first ever Rose Bowl.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama – he has 30+ minutes of real game experience, which just happened to be during last year’s national title game, filling in for an inefficient Jalen Hurts. Louisville isn’t the toughest opponent, but at least offers a credible ACC defense in his first challenge as a starter.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – Kelly Bryant was named the starter for this week’s game against Furman but remember when Dabo Swinney started Wil Stoudt over Deshaun Watson? This feels similar. Lawrence is the #1 QB in the country and for as well as Bryant played last season, Lawrence will elevate the Tigers and end up starting the majority of the season.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State – for the first time in four years, JT Barrett is not the regular starting QB for the Buckeyes. What an amazing run it was in Columbus but now the team gets turned over to a dual-threat sophomore with arguably more talent than Barrett.
Trace McSorley, Penn State and Will Grier, West Virginia – pairing these two together as they are both seniors with Heisman expectations. And week 1 is always the time to build your resume. Grier faces a young Tennessee team and McSorley should put up video game numbers against Appalachian State, especially with star Saquon Barkley gone.
At the FCS level, there are a lot of exciting QBs to watch this weekend including a former Pitt recruit at James Madison facing NC State, Vinny Testeverde’s son vs Pitt, and Cam Newton’s brother against one of the favorites in the MAC .
Cincinnati over UCLA – someone accused me of making a homer pick earlier this week. Sure. Full disclosure, I am a Cincinnati alum. But coming off of back-to-back 4-8 seasons, how naive can I be to think the Bearcats can go across country and upset UCLA? Put bias and homerism aside and there are legit reasons why I think the Bearcats can pull off the upset. Coaching changes are tough and often have an impact on players that can’t always be seen by the naked eye. New UCLA coach Chip Kelly, as noted above, runs a very specific offense, with very specific players. QB Wilton Speight is not that player. He is a statue in the pocket, he lacks the accurate arm that Kelly likes (58.8% career completions). UCLA’s depth took a hit this week when 6 players were suspended for conduct detrimental. It’s going to be a feel out process for both teams in the Rose Bowl. Cincinnati should be a bit more comfortable in year two of this coaching staff and the seniors have big game experience (@OSU and Michigan in the past). UCLA will be on their toes trying to get acclimated to their coaches and to themselves, as young players are put into new and challenging positions due to the suspensions. I think we see a more confident and cohesive Bearcats team than recent years and they pull off the upset.
Troy over Boise State – Boise State is always everyone’s favorite Group of 5 team. Maybe it’s because of all their famous wins back when Chris Peterson was the coach, their blue turf, but people always rank them in the top 25, and people always want to see them succeed. Not here. Nothing against Boise State or coach Bryan Harsin or QB Brett Rypien, but they will not represent the Group of 5 in a bowl game in 2018. In fact, they will lose two OOC games, including this one (Oklahoma State the other one). Troy won at LSU last year and kept coach Neal Brown this past coaching carousel cycle. Those two wins give them the momentum they need.